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Israeli intel firm says it helped solve billion-dollar German jewel heist

Former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri of CGI Group says his company was hired to review security at Dresden museum, communicated with thief on dark web

This April 4, 2019, photo shows a part of the collection at the Jewelry Room of Dresden's Green Vault in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)
This April 4, 2019, photo shows a part of the collection at the Jewelry Room of Dresden's Green Vault in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

An Israeli business intelligence firm led by a former head of the Shin Bet security service helped achieve a recent breakthrough in the investigation into the brazen 2019 theft of 18th-century jewels from a unique collection in Germany believed to be worth over $1 billion, according to a report over the weekend.

Tuesday saw a massive police operation in Berlin, with more than 1,500 police carrying out a series of searches in the city and arresting three people. The suspects, identified only as German citizens, two aged 23 and one 26, were arrested on suspicion of organized robbery and arson.

Police issued photos of two others, wanted on the same charges, identifying them as Abdul Majed Remmo, 21, and Mohamed Remmo, 21.

The identity of the latest detained suspects is not yet clear. But Israel’s Channel 12 news reported the country’s CGI Group assisted the effort to hunt down the thieves.

A picture taken on April 9, 2019, shows one of the rooms in the Green Vault (Gruenes Goelbe) at the Royal Palace in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/AFP)

The November 25, 2019, crime saw thieves break into Dresden’s Green Vault, one of the world’s oldest museums, during the night, and make off with three “priceless” sets of 18th century jewelry.

The Green Vault is one of the world’s oldest museums. It was established in 1723 and contains the treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, comprising around 4,000 objects of gold, precious stones and other materials.

Shortly after the theft, authorities offered a €500,000 ($593,000) reward for information leading to the recovery of the jewels or the arrest of the thieves. But little progress had been made over the past year.

An police officer walks behind a caution tape at the Schinkelwache building in Dresden, Germany, November 25, 2019. Authorities in Germany say thieves have carried out a brazen heist at Dresden’s Green Vault, one of the world’s oldest museums containing priceless treasures from around the world. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

Members of the same extended family were convicted earlier this year for a similarly spectacular heist, the theft of a 100-kilogram (220 pound) Canadian gold coin dubbed the “Big Maple Leaf” from Berlin’s Bode Museum in 2017. Cousins Ahmed Remmo and Wissam Remmo, along with a friend who worked as a security guard at the museum, were all convicted of that crime and sentenced to several years in prison.

“Immediately after the robbery we were approached by a European law firm that asked that we look at the security arrangements at the museum,” CGI Group’s Yaakov Peri, who led the Shin Bet agency between 1988 and 1994, told Channel 12.

Then-Knesset member Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, at a meeting in the Knesset on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I can’t take the credit for solving [the case], I can say we assisted,” Peri said. “Early on in the probe it appeared likely that the thieves had cooperation on the inside. One of the museum employees likely cooperated with the infiltrators.”

Later on, CGI Group managed to establish contact with one of the alleged thieves on the dark net — a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools. The person offered to sell them two of the stolen stones for some $25 million.

“We gave all the material we had to the chief prosecutor in Dresden,” Peri said. “We cooperated with [the potential suspect] as though we will come and buy the stolen goods. We created a map marking out the areas where they offered to make the sale. This too we sent to the German prosecutors.

“There wasn’t a follow-up on that, but we can see that the areas we pointed to saw the arrests of the German crime family that the crime has been attributed to,” added Peri.

Police officers stand guard in front of an apartment building in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 17, 2020 (Annette Riedl/dpa via AP)

In Tuesday’s massive operation to arrest the suspects, a total of 1,638 police officers from Saxony, Berlin and several other states, as well as federal special police forces, searched a total of 18 locations, including 10 apartments and also garages and vehicles.

Their target was “art treasures and possible evidence such as computer storage media, clothing and tools,” Dresden police and prosecutors said. The searches, focused on Berlin’s Neukoelln district, did not immediately turn up any of the missing treasures.

“We’d have to have a lot of luck in order to find them a year after the crime,” Dresden police spokesman Thomas Geithner told reporters.

The director of Dresden’s museums, Marion Ackermann, said the raids and arrests were an encouraging development in the case.

A Golden Coffee Service (1697–1701) on display at the Green Vault in Dresden. (Wikipedia/Hajotthu/CC BY-SA)

“Of course we hope that the jewelry sets will be found and that they soon be able to be returned to their original location,” she said.

Berlin’s top security official, Andreas Geisel, said the raids Tuesday should serve as a warning to organized crime families in general.

“Nobody should believe that he set himself above the rules of the state,” Geisel said.

In March, prosecutors and police said they had determined that an Audi S6 used in the theft and later set alight in a Dresden garage was sold to an unidentified buyer in August.

Police officers bring an arrested man into the building of the Higher Regional Court in Dresden, eastern Germany, on November 17, 2020 after raids of properties in connection with a spectacular heist on Green Vault museum in Dresden’s Royal Palace on November 25, 2019. (Robert Michael / dpa / AFP)

They said they believe a young man who picked up the car from the seller in Magdeburg, another eastern German city, was connected to the break-in and released a sketch of a slim, dark-haired man believed to be about 25 years old.

The car may have been repainted before the break-in, authorities said at the time, bolstering suspicions that the theft was planned well in advance.

German news agency dpa quoted prosecutors as saying they believe at least six people were directly involved in the heist.

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